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Seeing 3D printing clearly with Hoet eyewear

The eyewear industry is one of the most significant when looking at the breakdown of the consumer AM segment. As one of the first eyewear brands to implement 3D printing for production, Hoet has been in our sights for some time. Over the years, we have kept in touch with the company’s co-founder Bieke Hoet, who has kept us informed about its activities and growth in the consumer eyewear market. 

For some background, Hoet began 3D printing frames back in 2011. And even then, it understood that the technology could be a disruptive force in its industry. Additive manufacturing has enabled Hoet’s designers to create new and innovative frames, integrating geometric structures and even using AM’s unique surface finishes to bring to market a unique offering.

In addition to creating new and exciting design opportunities, AM has transformed Hoet’s production—helping to speed up prototyping and design cycles and allowing for more  flexible end-use production. Notably, Hoet has adopted a made-to-order approach for many of its frames. Today, the company uses both SLS and titanium 3D printing to produce its frame collections, including the CABRIO (made using SLS), COUTURE (printed from titanium) and COSTUME (made using a combination of the processes) collections.

We recently caught up with Bieke Hoet to learn about how the company has progressed since we interviewed her a year ago.

Bieke Hoet interview
The U1 frames from Hoet’s COSTUME collection

3dpbm: How much has your 3D printed frames business grown?

Bieke Hoet: Having some very interesting ambassadors—like Mr. Samuel L. Jackson [who wore Hoet frames in an Alzheimer’s awareness ad]—shows how much our business has grown in the last years. Our current network of high-end opticians is positioned worldwide and shows a growing number of sales in the custom-made 3D titanium eyewear collection. 80% of our customers are males who have a strong interest in the highly technical approach of this collection.

For our second business as a design office specializing in eyewear, we are approached by external companies who want to work with us for their current and future collections, with a focus on the development of 3D printed collections. Several exciting projects are being developed at this moment, and are expected to launch in just a few months.

3dpbm: What were the key benefits of using AM in the beginning and how has this changed over the past few years?

BH: First, the ecological benefit of AM, which was important at the beginning, is still very relevant today. As designers, we are situated at the beginning of the consumption chain. The Hoet COUTURE and Hoet COSTUME collections were established some time ago with the aim of having our ethical responsibility reflected in our products and business models. In contrast to traditional production processes, we start the production of these two lines only after an order has been placed. This means that neither we nor the opticians need to keep excessive stock. Furthermore, there is hardly any waste of raw materials during the 3D printing process used for these collections. The conscious consumer ultimately takes home a product that bears ecological, social and ethical responsibility.

Bieke Hoet Interview
The U2 frames from Hoet’s COSTUME collection

Second is the benefit of freedom of design. The ability to play with different materials and combinations is opening up new opportunities. The new Hoet COSTUME collection is living proof of the endless possibilities that 3D printing offers for the eyewear industry.

The third benefit that has endured is reduced development times for new designs. 3D is fast. Our intensive research in 3D printing for eyewear design has resulted in the generation of 3D files in a very limited timeframe. This is followed by the production of a prototype within 10 to 20 working days. On top of that, a design cycle can include several prototype phases before the final design is locked in.

Overall, the benefits haven’t changed. The approach has changed in several cases, however. Companies do not always take advantage of these benefits. For example, I see some collections manufacturing 3D printed eyewear following the traditional business model of manufacturing 50,000 frames up front in different colors, resulting in leftover stock in warehouses and at the opticians. It results in many wasted frames, unfortunately. 

Bieke Hoet interview
The U2 frames from Hoet’s COSTUME collection

3dpbm: What 3D printed products do you sell more of and why do you think that is?

BH: In general, I would say that the made-to-measure collections are growing. By initiating production after a sale is made, customers have more personalization opportunities, which creates an important added value to the customer and justifies the cost. After all, 3D printing is still not a cheap manufacturing method, which makes it even more important to take advantage of the specific benefits that it offers. Not only for Hoet’s own collections, but also the collections we have developed for HOYA on the Yuniku platform.

Just like a painter, a woodworker or a cook, we designers need to choose the right tools for the realization we have in mind and for the public that we want to attract and charm.

3dpbm: Have you seen significant competition in 3D printed frames from other manufacturers?

BH: There is no competition if the design is differentiating.

3dpbm: And what technologies do you use in your production?

BH: Our frames are realized by selective laser sintering in polyamide or in titanium. Of course, we always have our eyes open for new and fast-developing technologies. However, some intensive research needs to be done before new processes can be approved for the eyewear industry. For manufacturing and distribution, we work with reliable partners that meet our quality standards, since our core business is eyewear design.

This interview was originally in our Consumer AM eBook. For a case study about Hoet’s COSTUME eyewear collection, feel free to download our free publication.

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